So the other page was about 100 KB, which is as good a reason as any to turn the page.
Lion Attack: kayaking
Steepest Isobars: climbing
Callebaut: airplane thing
Rabbit Mountain: climbing
Visitors: the usual adventure
Fan Shaped: kayaking
Titanic moose: hunting
Glacier Bou: hunting
Kids and Kites: kids and kites
And this aint no bullshit...
There I was, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual, as you will come to see.
The decision was to grab either my gun or my camera. I grabbed my ass.
Well, it started the way it always starts, without a clue of what was about to happen, or I would have immediately turned back. I didn't have no reason to figure out the why of it all whilst I paddled along, out a ways from the shore. I just figured that the water was getting a bit rougher. I was slowly forced to paddle out farther from the shore to avoid the odd area of white-capped swells.
I was paddling south on the outside coast. The shore dramatically changed from the country rock, to a volcano lava outflow. By the time I was curious enough to think about it, I was in what I guess I woulda hadta go through anyway. The country rock I had just passed, dropped steeply below the water line, but the lava from the large volcano made a shallow shelf under the water, a long ways out to sea. The rock was irregular, with high spots near the surface, a good ways out.
The sizable swells finally hitting land after a long and boring trip across the Pacific Ocean, suddenly broke into crests of thundering white caps as they crossed the shallower rocks. Same old story of too many laws and over-regulation. A chap in a touring kayak is not allowed to be at the same spot that a swell crest suddenly explodes into a churning tumbler of white cap, on account of the law. The law says that if you are at that spot at that time, your kayak will be summarily splintered out from around you, and you will be spit out. Physics. Don't mess with the laws of physics. De judge aint never been lenient.
So first I realized I was in among the blithers, and would have to paddle back to get out of them, about the same time I realized that if I wanted to go around them, I would have to paddle a frightfully long ways out into the ocean. The words that I use carry their meaning. Between frightfully long, as in a lot more paddling, and frightfully straight through the gauntlet, as in less paddling, frightfully less was better than frightfully more.
But the swells were a bit much more also. Down in the trough, I could only see the water close around me. Up on top, as a swell passed under me, I got one quick glance at my desperate situation before sinking back into a trough. I was moving south. The swells were coming from the west. And the white-caps suddenly erupted over enough of the shallow rocks that I had to thread a zig zag course through them. The course was derived from the momentary view ahead of me as I topped each swell, without any reference for the vectors among all the movements and forces. I quite literally learned right at that spot, how to keep a visual image in my mind while I paddled in relation to the seat of my pants as it related to the image in my mind, since there was nothing else useful to see or measure. Everything was moving different directions, with the comical part being my moving up and down, as well as forward and side to side. This was not just what you may too casually surmise from these mere words. By the time I realized just how serious this was, I would not have tried to turn around, for greater fear. And the path ahead, of course fraught with peril as usual, was also a discomfortingly long distance.
But that was doable. About the same time things were turning to shit, albeit quite fluid, a white cap exploded with a searing roar so close at my starboard bow that I was pushed into the trough by its tumbling remains. It was not supposed to have been there. Something was out of place in my mental image at the moment. That's when I realized what was out of place and how deep the doodoo really was.
Every seventh swell is larger, and therefore explodes in a white cap on a less shallow rock that the smaller swells pass without erupting. The searing nature of the roar of exploding water in the previous paragraph was not a trifling matter. As I crossed over the top of the next swell, my mind speeded up to collect more data. I counted the swell lines as well as all the white caps and the safe areas. The next swell up I saw a white cap where a previous swell had passed clean, and it was in front of me, but too far to get past before seven more swells. The line became thinner and the turns more complex.
Yeah, so well, the adrenaline level was doing its natural thing, and I was straining my muscles on the paddle and rudder, and I was surviving, and there was no small distance of this game to survive, but I figured that I had the game down well enough that I had an even chance.
Next swell up, off to the far front left, I saw something I had never seen. A thin object was sticking straight up out of the water some small but indeterminable length, and was bent over ninety degrees, extending a little farther than the vertical section. It was then promptly out of sight as I sank into the next trough. It was another item of data among data already maxing-out my mind's data-sorting process. Next swell up it was still there, and something was around it. And it somehow looked alive.
While you are trying to figure out what the thing is, I was trying to keep track of every seventh swell and the narrow line of clean swells in different directions at different points. After a few more up swells, the thing was gone, and in its place there was the head of a huge bull sea lion. The thing had been the sea lion's flipper, waving in the air while he had been floating on his side. It is the sea lion floating couch potatoe position. Oh, besides the huge bull, there was a whole gaggle of sea lions around him.
And they were looking at me. Oh shit.
I was still in the thick of it, at maximum mental capacity, and now at each swell top I could see a full, on line, frontal charge of twelve, count them, twelve sea lions. A couple more up swells and they were close enough so I could hear them barking, and they were not mincing barks. It was clear in any language that they were not pleased with my intrusion, and were coming to inform me up close and personal.
A charge of twelve sea lions on line, two of them bulls, barking with the force of a few thousand pounds of muscle and blubber, makes an impression. Besides me dropping out of sight in the troughs, they routinely dove under water, on line, to later emerge on line, closer, barking.
The white caps. Remember the white caps. They were the real threat, regardless of what else was happening. They were death.
No equivocation. The next time the sea lions emerged on line in full charge, they were one dive away from their arrival on site, up close and personal. The vicious noise of their barking was matched only by their expressions of rage, twelve faces with muscles stretched tight around their bared teeth. In an instant I saw all twelve individual expressions. Some where not sure, but the others were. The lead bull had a chipped left canine, and a scar on his right lower lip. He was not pretty, and was not trying to look pretty.
The adrenalin level peaked just past maximum. I could grab my gun or my camera, on account of the mind generally wanting to grab something at times like that, but both were useless in any regard, so I hastily stowed by paddle and grabbed my ass by the gunwales of the kayak, and braced myself for the impact.
To this very day those twelve sea lions are telling the same story, and laughing themselves to tears, slapping their sides with their flippers each time they describe the expression on the kayaker's face.
I didn't see them again. They didn't emerge anywhere in sight. They had seen me, came up with the idea, discussed it, decided upon it, and willfully set out to scare the shit out of another fool kayaker caught where he shouldn't have been anyway.
Flat dumb luck that a white cap did not get me before I was as suddenly back at the white cap game, bare white knuckles gripped on a paddle, with not even a chance to look back once. It aint no bullshit to inform you that the only memory I have of the remainder of the white cap game is that I survived, and rounded the cape, where I next learned a lesson you only need to learn once. Most intriguing what all you can learn if you don't waste your time reading stories, and just do things the hard way right from the get-go.
Steepest Isobars in Alaska
There we were, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual, or maybe it weren't so usual this time. But exposed flesh would have frozen in seconds, if not nanoseconds.
Same old place, in the dark of night in the dead of winter in the heart of the Alaska Range, trapped between gaping crevasses, and the storm raged. Only, the mountains did not tower above, on account of we being up on the mountain about the time this story finally gets to the up-on-the-mountain part.
The original excuse was moulin exploration, the quest to claw our way down deep into the very bowels of the glacier, shut off from the world, in darkness, to be one with the glacier, one with the ice, one with the frozen dark universe drifting among those nasty little thermonuclear storm cells we call stars. We would discover the essence of essence, or something like that. But the excuse doesn't always work. We poked and prodded and dug holes in the snow, much to our inordinate frustration, and the glacier kept hidden the moulin we thought oughta be there where we left it that summer. Things change.
We were out on the flat glacier, in the middle of it somewhere. We had a darn good camp site with a luxurious three room snow cave, and a rather impressive, roomy, stand-up, fully enclosed snow cave shitter. Such luxuries are appreciated when the fierce down-glacier winter wind is making a surface blizzard, as you might imagine.
But we couldn't find the moulin. So we finally looked up, and be darned if there wasn't a mountain, towering above, right where we left it that summer. Like a cat that sees the end of a string, we pounced. Well, first we sorted through a lot of that clunky equipment, throwing out the hole stuff and clipping in the hill stuff. We put snow blocks in front of the snow cave and shitter door, to keep the wind and snow drifts out, and sallied forth.
Things don't always work out. A few minutes out of camp, just about the time we were settled into the boring rhythem of sliding each ski through the snow, up-glacier toward the mountain that twitched in front of us, a lone small airplane suddenly appeared and plopped right down there back beside our camp. Gracious hosts that we are, we grumbled a bit and slid back down our tracks to the camp. The visitor was indeed welcome and we were delighted to see her, but that was a mountain we were heading toward, and if cigar smokers think that a cigar is of great substance, imagine what mountain climbers think of mountains.
But we partied hard that day, laughing ourselves to tears, and stayed at the cave that night, drinking fine brandy, and savoring the finest Belgian chocolate, Callebaut, that we made into the famous Black Rapids Glacier Kisses. First you cut a block of only the most fine crystal, wind-driven, virgin white glacier snow usually found about eighty three centimeters under the surface, if the weather was as it should be. Slice a flat surface on top of the block. Then you scoop out a row of little depressions in the snow, with a spoon, after you scrape the spoon clean of the frozen chunks of glop from the previous meal. Then you properly temper the chocolate, that is, melt the stuff in the glop pot, and pour the chocolate into the cup shapes in the snow. Timing is everything. The chocolate immediately hardens against the snow, acquiring a distinctive surface texture and flavor that will infuse the palate and mind with the pulse and spirit of glacier-clad mountains, or something like that. But the center of each dollop remains soft awhile. Promptly scoop out the soft centers and plop them back in the glop pot. Next pour only the finest brandy into the little cups of chocolate, perhaps Germain-Robin Reserve, or whatever you can find in the liquor stash. Then carefully pour chocolate around the rim of each chocolate cup, spiraling toward the center as the ice-cold liquor solidifies the chocolate with the spiraling wave shape. Add a cute little curl at the center, of course.
Don't even wait to cork the bottle again. Scarf down those succulent little hummers as fast as the last curl cools. Then scrape the rest of the chocolate out of the glop pot, and swill it down with what's left in the brandy bottle, if it was brandy. You can write words about the pulse of the spirit of the glacier-clad mountains later.
Some time next mid morning we crawled out of the cave, strapped our skis to our mittens, and crawled up toward the mountain again. Last words we said to the visitor were, keep the snow-block door on the shitter shut so it won't drift in at night.
The weather was great and we reached the false summit of the nearby mountain just a bit late in the day, just a bit too far from the summit to make a go of it that day. There were the usual moments along the way, like the slab we cut loose near the top of an hour-glass shaped couloir below the false summit. It was a small one, and we watched it slip away below us, somewhat thankful it did not slip away from above use. It dropped out of sight over a little bump. For some reason we kept looking down, and then what we saw roar out into the air through the narrow slot of the hour-glass had us suddenly dig our claws into the mountain just in case what we saw was standing still and the mountain was falling away from it. The massive avalanche plunged through the air to the glacier below, and engulfed it. Darn good thing it was on the other side of the mountain, away from the camp side.
A curious thing happened at the false summit. It was a precarious little spot, and we were hanging on. We had been on the east side of the hill, and got our first view to the west, over toward Denali. Intriguing cloud shapes, kinda pretty and ragged. Nothing otherwise too special. Light wind. We were discussing the decision of whether to go for the summit and make a late camp where we could find a spot, or drop back a ways to a camp spot, and go for it in the morning. All of a sudden-like, what was an odd little cloud seemingly drifting out in front of us, shot past us so fast right there at head-level that we wouldn't have believed it if another one didn't rip past us on the other side, tattering some threads on the left shoulder of my parka, and the wind was making ice crystals on our teeth as we spoke. Without much further discussion we decided to drop back to make a camp, first ducking down behind the hill top so we could hear ourselves think.
It was only because we were in the lee of a steep slope that we could reach a flat spot below. The proverbial sand-blaster of the sky was being lowered down to freshen-up the mountain surface, and we weren't attached.
A trait of these brash mountain climber types is that they all say that their choice of equipment is the best equipment, and that anyone else's choice aint worth shit, which is why most Alaskans make much of their own equipment because that other stuff really aint worth shit when it gets smacked by Alaska conditions, but so far in my continual search for the best, I have found that if you get caught where this story got caught, albeit all too often, and you do a tent rather than a snow cave, you will choose a Stephenson Warmlite tent if you know about them. I only say that because some of those people who disappear in Alaska, were last seen with a tent that wasn't a Stephenson. The somewhat flat spot we found for a hasty and desperate camp, where we decided to put up the tent rather than dig-in, was not much in the lee of the slope, and by the time we reached it in the dark, the nozzle of the sand blaster came around the corner.
If these words were video filming the scene, you won't see it in the dark because it was too windy to get out the headlamps, and the blasts of ground-blizzard snow were too dense to see through, even if you were there. One of us was crouching on the packs and holding the other of us as the other was putting tent poles in the tent as the rime ice was caking up just to be stripped off in chunks blasted away into the darkness. I was amazed that we got the tent up and got inside, as usual. The light of our headlamps barely penetrated the fog inside the zipped-up tent violently thrashing around us. Yeah, yeah, a Stephenson tent is the most stable tent you will ever have in a wind. That's how serious the wind was, and that's how strong the tent is. Having done it before as such times, but only for that reason, we were able to get some snow melted, eat something that we found by feeling around in our packs, and get into our sleeping bags, wishing we were down on the lower glacier, not far below, in our palatial snow cave wherein the outside wind would not even be heard, where the visitor was probably amused by our having foolishly left. I do not know if we slept. The noise of the wind was too loud to hear any snoring.
We survived the night. The next morning was reasonable, but a bit brisk. We climbed to the summit, and enjoyed the view of yet spectacular clouds. We started back down.
Well, so it was just somewhat of a lull in the odd weather. Before we got very far back down, it got a bit more breezy again. The rope between us was stretched in a long arc, held horizontal above the snow by the wind. The ground blizzard kept us out of each other's sight much of the time. The loudest shout was blown away long before it could reach the other guy. The gusts would often knock us over, not at the same time. That left the first guy to be jerked off his feet by the rope while the second guy was struggling to get back up after being knocked down by the wind, and therefore being pulled back down by the first guy. The wind was from the side, so we were braced against it while trying to take each step through the deep struggi convolutions in the snow. The gusts of wind would knock us down in one direction. The momentary lulls in the wind caused us to fall in the other direction. We finally gave up, and crawled on our hands and knees, slowly struggling down a plateau on the mountain. And in time we got over an edge where the wind was more behaved. Down on the lower glacier, we got to our skis, strapped them on, stood up, and were blown down-glacier to the doorstep of the cave.
Oh, the wind had been blowing a lot of snow, and was still blowing strong. Well, at that time the visitor did not have a lot of experience in these things. Of course we had chosen to delay certain matters until we got back to the comforts of the aforementioned rest room, out of the stinging cold ground blizzard. But the snow block door of the shitter had not been closed the previous evening, leaving the rest room densely packed with drifted snow. There was a bit of a discussion in regard to this minor oversight, albeit somewhat hurried as two of us hastily dug out the shitter at no small effort. The visitor, since having acquired a diversity of experience, will read this, and laugh.
The usual suspects were later discussing the usual lies with the usual innebriants, when one of the lot asked again which days we were out there. He was a weather sort. He was noticeably emphatic in confirming the substance of our story, with the description of weather map he had seen for those days. The steepest gradient of isobars to ever rake the Alaska Range. It was enough to make us believe our own story.
There we were, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual, and we barely escaped in grand style.
If there is a question, the answer is chocolate.
Well so these Alaska mountain climbers and adventurers, each with some psychological twitch that caused their flight from society, ending up in Alaska, including those who started here, are sometimes sufficiently literate to read all those adventure magazines, and the advertisements in them. It usually causes the usual mumbling and grumbling, arm waving and expressions of indignation. Here we are doing all this stuff beyond the most outrageous of all the over-hyped stuff in the magazines, just for idle amusement, and in the dead of winter, while all those lower 48 pansies in the advertisements, with corporate connections due to their high quality bullshitting, get all that money and free gear to do stuff that tourists do. It's enough to make one wonder.
The zenith of the phenomenon is that national magazine with the yellow border on their front page, whatever they call themselves, who pay so much money to their ignorant city guys to come to Alaska to do tripe, lie about Alaska and Alaskans for their environmentalist agenda, and then brag about what they did among local adventurers who are too polite to inform the dolts of their embarrassment. It is fun ragging them, but they do a good service by confusing people who foolishly believe them.
Not to be outdone, another couple local adventurers yet again challenged the impenetrable fortress walls of sponsors, twitch. A typewriter and dictionary were drug out. The keys were pounded upon. Sound reasoning was adroitly ascribed in printed words. Envelopes were stuffed and dropped in the mail.
The trip was to be yet another grand adventure most certainly beyond what anyone else had done, er, an exploration expedition of profound scientific value for the advancement of geophysical and earth science data bases applicable to social needs, including baseball and apple pie if we could work it in.
And it worked. Williams Sonoma sent a five kilogram block of Callebaut chocolate. So, well, we could have bought it with the cost of the stamps for all the other requests that did not penetrate the fortress walls of sponsors. The trip itself was better than all those for which sponsors contribute generously, but apparently, our particular arrangements of words, twitch, were not sufficiently similar to those more expert words used by the fine chaps who spent more time with words than with their adventures. Those Williams Sonoma people gained a lot of points with a few climbers who can't afford their high quality foods. We later discovered that the Williams Sonoma people understand how to enjoy life, so they figured out right away that our expedition was all about having fun, and they had fun sending us that superlative chocolate.
Well, this trip was of the nature and location that made airplane access highly craved by the expedition team who could not really afford to use an airplane, of course. There was this other attempt to use a dog team to get the equipment over the glacier moraine. It was a grand effort, but the dogs got half way through, and then had a little chit-chat with the musher, and we turned back. But there was this other Alaska climber who had a real job, and had an airplane. Already with the sponsorship booty of an eleven pound block of the best chocolate, and speaking the same language as the climber with an airplane, we settled upon an affordable deal. We did not discuss the previous airplane he crashed, nor the combined flaws of being both a climber and an airplane driver willing to fly in the mountains.
We jammed all the stuff into his airplane. I got in back and sat on the stack of equipment. I pulled the seat belt up and fastened it over my lap. My colleague got into the front seat. The driver got in, and we took off.
Same old story. Each minor problem could have been corrected before the next one was added. It was a bit nippy, somewhere below zero, when we took off, so the driver put intake covers over the cylinder heads on the airplane engine. But it got warmer at altitude, of course, so the engine temperature gauge climbed up to the red line. First we couldn't get over the top of the Range to land on the glacier back down in the middle, for lack of power in the overheated engine, so we flew around one end of that set of mountains. We didn't land to remove the covers, like we should have along the way at any convenient flat area of snow. Then the long flight up the glacier kept the engine temperature at red line. Then the lighting conditions were flat with the low sun barely shining through the low white clouds over a white glacier bordered by white glacier-covered slopes, making surface features indistinguishable. And the down glacier wind was a bit brisk. And the driver decided to not first do a touch and go to check out the glacier surface, since the take-off power would overhead the engine. And then he decided that there was plenty of area to do a down glacier landing so he wouldn't have to go up glacier again and overheat the engine. And a few things like that. Easy enough to suspect the rest of the story, but at the time the driver was flying the plane, going over a hundred miles an hour in a dangerous place, thinking of all the other things that had to be done just to stay flying between mountain walls, and also setting up for landing. Some things sometimes get overlooked among too many variables at fast speed. There is a reason that it is sometimes hard to find a glacier pilot. It goes like this: You guys don't pay enough for the number of airplanes you cost.
When one landing gear strut breaks off inside the cabin of a Cessna 180, the sound is quite memorable. Those landing gear struts are built really strong. It takes a lot to break them, but it can be done by impacting an unseen white mound of hard snow on the glacier, at high speed. The airplane made an interesting attempt to turn broadside, at the aforementioned high speed, before cartwheeling wing over wing and coming to a sudden stop, nose into the snow, upside down of course, with some serious rearrangements of the wings and fuselage. Pretty damn impressive show, albeit a bit expensive per second. Imagine the guys in the front seats, mostly jammed under the dash, upside down, face at the windshield with a view of white snow when their thinking process returned to the: What happened?, stage.
There was another time something like that happened to me, but not up on a glacier. And I was in the back that time too. That time the door was already off the airplane, as well as the wings, and I instinctively jumped out the moment the airplane came to a stop. Mistake. We were still up in the trees. And then there was another time on a glacier. The first thing I did, still a bit hazy, was to feel my teeth to access the damage, and I heard the pilot say: Well, we're down.
I recommend old pilots who usually laugh at you when you tell them where you want to land.
So this time, of course the first thing I instinctively did in the process to immediately exit the airplane, was to unclip my seat belt. Wouldn't you? Mistake. Not only was I upside down, hanging from my seat belt, but I was sitting on a large pile of heavy equipment. I hate that when it happens.
I don't remember how I opened the door that was jammed shut, but within moments I was out from under the tangle of equipment, standing out on the underside of the wing, such as it was. And my colleagues were promptly out in the brisk freezing wind on the glacier. Any landing is a good landing if you walk away from it, and that was a good landing.
This weren't no schmuck operation. After calculating that we didn't incur any debilitating injuries, despite the pitiful appearance of the totaled airplane, we promptly set about the usual routine, only this time, two hours after our enthusiastically greeting the glacier, the pilot was with us in the rather luxurious snow cave, partaking of the finest Callebaut Belgium chocolate and VSOP Cognac. Well, what we saved on the cost of a commercial pilot, we spent on Cognac of course, in case we needed it, and we did.
There I was, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual, but on this occasion it was so damn desperate the decision was between taking a chance on frozen toes, or the last rites. I took my chances with freezing my toes, on account of the last rites not being all that desirable at the moment.
Well it was the same old thing, yet again. Yeah, the dead of winter, the heart of the Alaska Range and all that. It wasn't in the dark of night, but it was just a bit before that. And on account of exposed flesh freezing in seconds you know, the whole story started.
Oh, you will not find Rabbit Mountain, but it is so named on the map, in bold print, and prominent for that part of the Alaska Range.
It was pretty boring up until then, except for a section in one of the two icefalls, that was erased when we descended a few days later, but that was too common also. The three of us went traipsing off on yet another climb. How should we know we would end up making two first ascents of Alaska Range peaks never before climbed by mere humans. We didn't care. We climbed the hills that were already climbed, the same way we climbed the hills not already climbed. And be danged if we were going to read any records about what was already done, on account of it being a waste of good climbing time, some of the records being as reliable as fishing stories, the records not always being written, and we being mountain climbers we didn't have all that great a command of reading anyway.
As we found out later, apparently certain local chaps had previously climbed one peak of this four-peak hill, the one with the name printed next to it on the map. Two of the peaks were about as even in height as you can get. I later climbed the named peak to confirm that the two peaks looked about even from both directions. The first printing of the map named the peak we climbed as the main peak, until the egotist among the previous lot who climbed the peak that was not named, formally informed the map agency that the peak he climbed was the higher peak, so they changed the location of the name on the next printing of the map so he could claim the first ascent of the named mountain. Of course.
But the real climb of that hill is the ridge between the two even peaks. Every climber who has seen it, agrees. It is vertical on one side, steeper on the other side, the cornices hang over both sides, and it is up and down the whole way. I intend to do it before anyone else sneaks in there ahead of me to do it first.
This first ascent thing is an amusing trait of this mountain climbing thing. These humans have been crawling over the face of the old home rock for so long that we pretty much know how to do it. If we scratch our way onto a spot not prior sullied with the presence of these smelly old humans, it is only humans that much care, and then only those who derived so little knowledge from their effort to get there that they gotta tell stories about it later, expounding upon the glorious effort of having been born a few years before the next climber who would have otherwise been first, just to wring some last morsel of ego-gratification out of the spot.
You oughta see the effort some of these mountain climbers and their pitiable organization leaders expend just to formally, officially and with great pontification in the record of the universe, glue the names of humans to stories about being the first, mind you, THE FIRST, to sit their patootee on the top of some spot a little higher on a ridge, a describable ways from another higher spot where some other name sat their cheeks, exhausted, wondering what the hell it is all about anyway. There have been some strident words spoken at international meetings of self-identified prestigious mountaineering organizations, some of them by a certain chap glaring at me with unsavory thoughts, about certain local climbers who dare to climb mountains without informing the official international keepers of first ascent egotist name lists, and thus anguish the minds of the next egotist climbers who don't know what bumps on the rock's surface to climb in quest of their place on some list. Imagine the consternation when the official organization stories stumble into the real local stories. In all things, be wary of the other list. The person who climbs for the mountain rather than the list, can share the laughter of the mountains.
Then what do those chaps do when the earth twitches a bit and the spot tumbles down into the valley, like when the summit of Mt. Cook fell off recently, or the summit of Mt. St. Helens ascended to heaven. Who made the first ascent of the new lower summit already trammeled by the people walking up to what was previously higher? Another list?
And that is only the matter of who first walked there. Wait until I tell you about who gets what name attached to the tops of hills. It is certain that you will laugh, unless you are a government sort who cannot tolerate these humans doing what these humans do.
Wait, did I mention that when a couple of us climbed the named peak of the four-peak hill of this story, to look back at the unnamed peak we climbed during this story, to ascertain that they are about the same height, we climbed it by the first ascent of a new route never before climbed by mere humans, and harder than the route climbed by the chaps who climbed the hill the first time. And I'll mention that again if I write the story about that climb. New routes were just new routes, until they became described as first ascents of new routes, to edge-in on the glory of the first ascent words. And that climb was more desperate than this climb. The words I use will prove it, on account of I'm writing both sets of words.
One among us on the trip of this story was just a bit younger than we really knew at the time. Well, these young mountain climbers haven't learned much about themselves, or they wouldn't be young, and they wouldn't be climbers. He was still growing, so his body was demanding food. The serious climbing game among financially embarrassed sorts who can only afford to carry everything they need on their own backs for a few days, including all their climbing gear, is to cut the weight of the food down to the bare minimum. The others of us on this trip had the game down to the state of the art for the far frozen north in the dead of winter. We knew precisely what food was needed, for us. We noticed that he ate his breakfast with a certain enthusiasm, and when we divided up the lunch meal each morning, his share seemed to disappear the moment he got it in his hands. I think he is still telling the story we later heard, that he dang near starved to death on that adventure.
Well, he also wore bunny boots on that climb, on account of he not having enough money to buy double boots. Double boots are the standard boot for Alaska winter climbing. Bunny boots are big white three-layered, insulated rubber boots created for the Army back before global warming, back when it was cold in the winter. They are the most convenient cold weather boot you can have. But they are soft and flexible, precisely what you do not want for front-pointing on crampons up vertical ice. The climb was not that serious, so it wasn't a big thing, until we got to the crux of the northwest peak of the hill we climbed, a little vertical slot of rim ice that required front pointing, and then a bit of technique and energy. It was sheer expenditure of raw force that withered the slot of rime as he levitated up that section in bunny boots. I was in awe.
Oh, bunny boots are rubber or some such stuff, and do not allow any drying of foot perspiration. We did our best for three days, but after that we made him take his boots off outside the tent and snow caves, out in the wind. It was for the greater good of the expedition.
The wind was a bit brisk for several days on this little outing. The gusts knocked us over more than a few times approaching and leaving our high camp. Nice enough high camp, but a bit exposed up at the top of a glacier between the two peaks we climbed. We put up the tent, and protected it with some blocks of rime ice, but there was a bit of time after setting up the tent, so I set about to dig a cave, just in case. Not really a place to do that, but after much effort hacking and chopping and scratching in the ice with my ice axe, I had a place we could crowd into in case the tent blew away. A few tents have blown away or blown apart in the Alaska Range. It was comforting to know the cave was there as the wind tried its best to destroy our tent for two nights.
On the second peak, the northwest peak of the hill, it was a bit crowded with the three of us. We were low on water, and one of the lot was intent on using his tongue to get one of the two main icicles hanging off his moustache, into his mouth, for the water. It was a comical scene. Well, the summit is pretty much the most uneventful part of every climb, so any entertainment is good entertainment. The summit is usually endured for only a few minutes in the miserable cold wind, looking at the same rock, ice, clouds, and questionable colleagues you had been looking at the whole climb.
The morning of departure was particularly desperate. It was thirty five degrees below zero, ambient. The wind was screaming, and blowing a bit also. Standing against the wind was difficult and not always successful. The decision point for whether the toes are going to warm the boots or the boots are going to freeze the toes, is a precise and important matter involving a lot of data exchange between the toes and the brain. In fact there was a serious argument between them, distracting my attention that morning. I put off the decision until after the tent was taken down, because the cave was available to crawl into, to take off my boots and rewarm my toes if necessary.
Decision time came and I had to rewarm my freezing toes. I turned to the shallow cave, and there was the guy with the bunny boots, squatting just inside, out of the wind, administering last rites to the cave. It was an anguishing decision, but I took a chance on freezing the toes.
Yoooo for good grief sakes, not only was it not desperate as usual, we were in the lap of luxury. There were as many females as there were males. The details are of no matter, there were as many females as males. Of course if the visitors hadn't arrived with extra females, that would not be the case. And that is the least of it. We had already polished off two bottles of superlative wine, the expensive stuff, I think damn near ten dollars a bottle, and we had more Gammel Dansk than any human can drink, which aint too much on account of Gammel being what Danes have for breakfast, and the nature of Danes. We also had so much chocolate that we wrote 911 on a piece of paper next to the phone in case there was a chocolate overdose and we had drunken too much Gammel to remember the number.
I think these sorts were from Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Cambodia, or some such place south of Ketchikan somewhere if you go far enough. And Ketchikan is as far south as the real world goes, unless you are aware of Metlakatla, and they are smart enough to not attract too much attention.
It was a sunny summer night in Fairbanks. We came in off the deck when we noticed how late it was and how loud the cannon was from which we were shooting things all the way over the tree tops south of the clearing. Well, if the neighbors really object, they will usually fire off a few bursts of ammo just as a polite reminder.
On account of these folks being visitors, one of the locals drug out an old box of slides for a little slide show and story telling interlude between errant sloshes of Gammel in the general vicinity of the glasses. His slide show pretty much had the hemisphere covered from the North Pole to the South Pole, literally, and some of the places in between were rarely trammeled. If there weren't too many adventures to keep track of, I woulda been surprised at seeing for the first time the pictures of certain stories I had heard so many years. In the adventure world at the far edge of adventure, another first ascent of a mountain is another person's another day at the office. So whatever you think is so exciting about the grass on the other side of the fence, is just the same old chlorophyll to that grass.
It don't matter that the stories we told were true, with the pictures to prove it, I still wouldn't believe them if I were the visitors. When you haven't actually lived in the igloo you see in the picture, the story teller knows that he can say whatever he wants and the picture will fool you into believing it. I would, however, believe the stories about the cannon, moose nuggets, chocolate, Gammel and certain other things, on account of the visitors themselves tempering the succulently rich Callebaut chocolate (melting the stuff) in the microwave, and swilling the Gammel at the place this story was made from their participation.
Oh, the cannon. Well, you can shoot a lot of things out of a cannon, but here in Alaska we got the most convenient little cannon balls you can ask for. Look around from where you are standing and there will be a few piles of moose nuggets. Just roll a hand full down the barrel, and ignite the thing. If there were anything flying anywhere in front of the barrel for some distance, it would be supper. Aint that right, Preston? Of course Stacy, being a girl, politely acknowledge the childhood games that these guys of any age play with explosives, and smiled at our astute comments. And Ann figured out soon enough that her children figured out soon enough that the only way these stories could be true is by sheer dumb luck in surviving what her children were already smart enough to not try at home. Adult supervision is not enough. Even adults don't do those things. Alaskans do.
Thule, up there a bit north on the west coast of Greenland, was once a village of Thule Greenland people, of course, in a place selected because it was quite habitable in a place where habitable places are scarce. Then the evolution of the human phenomenon created the passing empire of the United States of America, a common society of otherwise reasonable humans with a malicious lot of arrogant leaders quite like all the other government dolts who are impressed with their petty titles. Sloshing their accumulated military weight around, identical to all power-based empires inherently doomed by the use of power over reasoning, the Washington DC thugs decided to flick the Thule people out of their village and seize the site for the Washington DC military. The feds made the Thule Air Force base, an intriguing place for curious people, and frozen hell for US Air Force chaps.
The native Thule people were first forcefully moved a mile or so around the corner of a rock cliff, to a less logical, wind-scoured place, and given new shacks to live in. But then still paranoid that these folks would spy on the Washington DC military, perhaps stealing nuclear technology for seal hunting, the military moved them sixty or so more miles north to an old hunting camp site, and gave them new shacks, now their home.
If you ever learn about that little 1960's nuclear bomb incident at Thule, and what has since leaked out, literally, you will never again think for a moment that government dolts are anything more than childish little spoiled brat liars who simply never intellectually grew up, the entire lot of them. That you support even one of them, with even one vote or word, thus encouraging them, leaves you with no excuse among commonly intelligent humans, much to the amusement of the observers.
So on one adventure too secret to mention what you are reading, paid for by your tax dollars, we were in Thule for a bit. Somehow finding a moment or two not encumbered by the other chaps more avidly squandering your tax dollars to protect you from illusions, we skied across the frozen bay to a prominent rock plateau typical of the Greenland west coast in that area. Easy enough hike up the talus slope, then climbing up the only relatively easy spot at the rimrock cliff, we were on top of the high plateau looking down on Thule Air Force Base and the surrounding world. That plateau is a prominent place in the local world.
At the north end of the flat plateau is a memorial rock cairn for Knud Rasmussen, who lived at Thule village, however that impressive early polar explorer spelled his name. I'm not much into names and dates. The concepts are what your mind uses to create new knowledge. The south end of the plateau is a magnificent place to watch the ocean, which is the local equivalent to the super market for our society. It is the source of food, and the store is open only a few summer months. Important spot.
And why did this story suddenly shift from a discussion of visitors in Fairbanks, to Thule Greenland? Well, there in the slide show was a picture I had forgotten. For no few thousand years, the hunters of Thule, males of course, sat on the south rim of that plateau, patiently watching the ocean for whales and anything else edible that moved, and were bored to tears, for lack of laptops. And there was a singular upright rock a bit larger than a human torso, which therefore in time was carved, quite well, using rocks for tools, into a female torso, of course. It is among the most uniquely placed, distinctive sculptures on the planet. Great photo op. With that picture, quite presentable, one can tell any story they want, and no one would dispute it, but one also could not defend oneself from any story anyone else wanted to tell. By the time the story gets back to Minnesota, Iowa or wherever somewhere south of Ketchikan, more parents will warn their children about those odd sorts up in Alaska.
The fan shaped sail
There I was, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual. I was on the outside coast, a particulary remote place guarded by perils. I was staring into the face of raw embarrassment. And it was snickering.
It all started in Gustavus Alaska, where some sea kayak adventurers are known to drift in on occasion. I was in the cabin of a friend who was retired from our dear and benevolent National Gulag Service. In the course of conversation, he showed me a copy of a grant proposal some adventurers had written. And they actually received a lot of hard cash grant money to play in the area. I laughed out loud at the magnificent rhetorical imagery wafting in ethereal realms. "One with the ocean. One with the leviathans. One with our ancient ancestors." I just might try some of those sorts of words in these stories. If they impress you, you can send me all your money and I will spend it the same way those chaps spent it.
They poured big bucks into building their high tech modern kayaks, on an old design, and then to keep on partying at Gustavus like they did every summer anyway. Gustavus is a beautiful garden spot in Alaska, with fields of fireweed and other wild flowers, the astute reader therefore recognizing the high quality partying among the local and visiting adventurers of serious merit. The aforementioned kayakers built their rather impressive, long kayaks in their more southern city down the coast a good ways. Then with what was a slight modification of the grant proposal, loaded them on a fishing boat going north. Short of Gustavus a ways, out of sight, they unloaded their kayaks, and then came triumphantly paddling into Gustavus. The pictures were taken. The parties began.
Before summer ended, a few of them took a couple of the kayaks out a ways around the Cape, where the, "one with the leviathans", rhetoric became the, "one with the storms and swells", rhetoric, and they hastily retreated to tell those stories in the comfort of Gustavus. The rest of the stuff in the grant proposal, like about 95% of the trip that the first grant was supposed to fund, could be done with the next grant proposal, as is the nature of grant proposals and government funding predicated on rhetoric rather than products or services. "So severe were the storms at the Cape that season, that ancient spruce trees tenaciously clinging to the sea cliff tops for hundreds of years, were stripped from their gnarled roots twisting among the rocks, and flung into the forest behind them." Or something like that.
Fortunately it was calm that summer a few miles away at Gustavus where I was invited to take one of their long kayaks out to check out the design, between parties. It was the fan shaped sail that caught my interest.
The next year I had a fan shaped sail for my Klepper kayak. Fun project for the old Singer Featherweight. Well I had never been on a sail boat in my life, and now I owned one. When one is among the sail boat aristocracy, one presents a certain air of aristocracy, as no doubt you recognized from these cultured words.
I paddled out of Auke Bay on the first day of the trip, and shortly arrived at Shelter Island. The forces smiled upon me for a moment. I was one with the forces, one with the places, one with the wind, the water, the time of day, one with our ancient ancestors, and I had to take a leak anyway so I pulled over at the little sand spit on Shelter Island.
A gentle breeze wafted through the crisp salt air, by chance going the same place I was going. I carefully set the stern of my kayak on the sand spit, with the bow out in the water pointed in the right direction. I took out my fancy new fan shaped sail and set it up on the kayak. I sat in the kayak, adjusting the guy lines and steering lines. The breeze conveniently kept the sail in full form so I could adjust each of the lines in perfect form, and tie some loops for other adjustment points, and all that fussing-about. The entire experience, process, design and feeling of the thing was new to me. When I had it perfect, I took out my paddle and turned to push off from the sand spit.
Ohmagosh. The little low sand spit was a mile behind me damn near out of sight. I looked forward to immediately recognize the first error in my sail design. All I could see was the sail in front of me. I bent over sideways and low to look under the sail edge. Besides the significant wake off my bow, hidden from sight by my sail, I recognized the first major result of that error in design. The rocks were right in front of me and approaching fast. Sails in the wind really work. I jammed left rudder and suddenly discovered what happens when you put a sail slaunchwise with the wind. Quickly correcting my error and fumbling with a lot of lines while looking under the sail to see how closely I was going to threaten the first rocks, I got the whole thing sufficiently stable and pointed in the right direction to then lunge forward with my knife and slash a hole in the base of the sail so I could see what I was going to hit next if I didn't sit back fast enough and weave an new snarl in the steering lines.
By the time I recovered and got things close enough to what they should have been before I put my kayak in the water, I was somewhat off course, but sailing, and pretty dang proud of myself, as a seafaring sailor. I would sew up the flapping tags of slashed sail later on a beach.
In fact, I would make a lot of design changes to that sail, while a year or more passed, before I got to the next paragraph, and will make some more before I get into the water with it again. There is a lot to be said about a fan shaped sail, but there are a lot of reasons you don't ever see them on boats. I recommend them for kayaks, but only if you do all those modifications.
It was, by chance, out around and a ways north of the aforementioned Cape which is every bit as deadly as it can be with the right words describing it. A gentle breeze wafted past my right ear, making a faint whistling sound out my left ear. And I was tired of paddling that day. I decided to set sail.
The deck of a kayak is just not sufficient to walk forward and mess with the sail. If you aint doing it from where you sit, you aint doing it. At that time my current high-tech sail design was such that I need only be facing downwind, and toss the top of the sail up a ways. It would catch the air, and blossom into a full fan shape, snapping into the main mast, with steering lines in place, this time with a well designed window.
So the breeze was just enough to sail, but was toying with my efforts to rig the sail. Each time the sail was almost up and not yet snapped into the mast, the breeze abated to leave the sail floating back down, with stiffeners in the water and lines askew. The design obviously needed a positive setting line, but it was not yet done. I was on the verge of abandoning the effort to sail, after a half dozen attempts, now a bit off course because I turned directly downwind, the sail dripping wet and the lines in a tangle.
To this very day I swear that it was the distinct sound of snickering that caused me to suddenly look over my shoulder. If you have ever seen a gaggle of female sea lions, close, motionless, with their heads above water, intently looking at you, you recognize the visual image of snickering. They had been watching the best comedy in the realm. I would have never even tried to set that sail the first time in that light breeze if I thought anyone was watching. I knew what it looked like when the sail came back down splayed out in the water.
I sat and waited a bit. The breeze picked up. I flipped the sail up. It snapped in place and blossomed in full form. I turned to look at the sea lions. They were nowhere in sight.
There I was mind you, and it was desperate indeed, in fact it was quite suddenly, oh shit. It is the classic Alaska oh shit hunting story.
This time I was caught out in the open, down in the dismal swamps of interior Alaska, on a Secret River known only to the hunters who hunt there, infested with mosquitoes, flies, white sox gnats, no-see-ums, leaches, wily wolves, grizzly bears, a gaggle of other things and barely enough ammunition, in a remote valley cut off from civilization, the river was treacherous, threatened by the rapidly changing weather as the leaves on the trees turned their yellow warning. Winter could come over the ridge, unseen, in a single night. Just a few years ago it came before the leaves turned yellow, and in a single night loaded the trees with heavy snow that bent many of them over, and then broke them off. So if it snows heavy, shake the snow off before it bends you over.
Requisite to culinary artistry and raw survival against famine, I had set out to devise the plan to search for moose, yet again. Having discovered on my earlier caribou hunt, where also I barely survived the rapids of a glacier river torrent of several paragraphs, that the moose were not to be found in my usual haunts this year, I was forced into the marginal habitat of new territory.
We humans are predators, and when predators are forced into unknown territory, they become desperate, gaunt, unpredictable and dangerous. And I hadn't even left the apartment. Worse, I had to find someone willing to drive their vehicle on a certain infamous road, to leave my vehicle where I might eventually reach, in my kayak, if I survived. This particular road was the product of a certain corrupt legislator, as are they all, who had a remote cabin on a river, and slipped some funding into the budget to bulldoze a long road to his cabin. It was a disaster, and not funded again, but a certain sort of mentally questionably Alaskans kept using the road, to this very day. I wouldn't suggest that the road might not qualify for the definition of a road, but in the early years the hapless Volkswagens which fell into the ruts and holes provided enough fill for the other vehicles to drive over them. Now the same holes can swallow pickups, but there are enough of those to keep the ruts filed for the more calculating drivers. It is not so much losing one's vehicle that might worry a person. It is the embarrassment, and I came closer than ever this trip, when two wheels slid sideways down the mud slope into a rut-lake while the other two wheels desperately clung to the edge just after the alder ripped off the side mirror. It was brute forward momentum and the energy of stark terror that saved me again. With my vehicle safely parked at river's edge on the downstream end, and the sort who risked their own vehicle to get me back out and up around to the other accessible end of the river, upstream, I was where I wanted to be, albeit late at night.
I hastily put my Klepper kayak together, threw down my sleeping pad, rolled the kayak on top of me, set my .44 beside my nose on account of there being no more room than that between the gunwales of the kayak, and enough bears in the area looking for kayaks to shred for the tender morsels often under them. I think I got to sleep. A Klepper makes an excellent tent for rain protection and posture control. For some reason I chose to get up in the early morning darkness to launch down river where I might find a more comfortable place to sleep the next night.
I had not been down this river, and knew little of it, but it is known among certain circles. That section of the river includes a lot of meanders through swamps, and shallow rapids through canyons. A few cabins have been built back in the trees along it, and two or three cabins are being lived in. There are many stories of people traveling that section of the river by motor boat, canoe and kayak, so I didn't really ask specific questions about the river. It dawned on me, from bits and pieces I belatedly figured out, that the motor boats were light river boats with jet attachments for light outboard motors. They traveled fast, used only an inch of water, and still encountered many difficulties. The people who started at the upper launch site, returned to it, while the few people who ventured a short way upstream from the lower end, returned to it, leaving a middle part about which the stories were few, vague and not comfortable. The canoes and kayaks which traveled the entire river, were few, traveled light, and included stories of not having to do that again. Fortunately, I am a tough guy, and can rhetorically fabricate an act of sheer stupidity into something that sounds like adventure.
So there I was at the launch site, loading my kayak. This was the wilds of Alaska, and therefore I was afforded the amusement one finds in the wilds of Alaska. Three chaps with a blue river boat with an outboard jet motor, showed up and launched the same time I did. I noticed that they did not put hip waders on. They must be good. They fired up the boat motor and roared away from the launch site, immediately crunching into a gravel bar. They pushed themselves back off with poles, fired up the motor again and roared away, immediately crunching into another gravel bar. They pushed themselves back off, fired up the motor and roared around the corner. I paddled my kayak around the corner, where they had crunched into another gravel bar, and were putting on their hip waders. I stepped out of the kayak in the middle of the shallow river, pulled the stern of their boat into deeper water, and after they invited me to visit them at their cabin down river, they roared off again. Their motor noise slowly disappeared in the distance.
Paddling silently, I rounded corners in the small river, to see cow and calf moose standing still on the bank, very close among the willows, watching me go by. The river meandered back and forth and back and forth in such a labyrinth of convolutions that direction was not a useful perception. The current was the only assurance that I was not going in a complete circle. I often beached the kayak and quietly climbed up over the bank in search of the wily bull moose. And I searched and searched and searched.
Along about evening I found a spot where so many moose had crossed the river, leaving tracks leading to their adjacent moose beds in the plentiful willows (moose food), that the place smelled like moose. I quietly walked through the brush, to see a cow and calf grazing in a swamp. A gravel area along the otherwise mud-banked river told my mind to put my tent right there. For some reason I slept very well.
I awoke in the dark of early morning, and decided to sit on the bank and wait for a bull moose to walk out into sight, to cross the river. Patience is virtuous. That lasted for an hour, before I deftly calculated that impatience offers more excitement. I took the kayak across the river, and slipped into the woods, watching each step so as to not snap a twig, or brush a branch, or step in bear poop. A moose is two large ears connected by a sound analysis device, and attached to a fast launch long distance travel unit. Bear poop at that time of year is a pile of purplish stuff that was blueberries and cranberries, sprinkled with some bright red gems that are whole cranberries having survived the adventure intact. Quite picturest, if you don't step in it. After awhile I spotted the cow and calf I saw last night, and quietly walked toward them because they were where I wanted to hang around. I was walking along a long lake.
Coming around a bend in the lake, I saw the white banners of the bull moose antlers. They were high in the air. He was looking for what he sensed was not as it should be in the beautiful autumn forest. This is the moment that the wily hunter carefully calculates all the things that the wily hunter carefully calculates. Unlike the wily hunter, after recognizing that the antlers were attached to unprocessed moose steaks, my keen mind made the controlling calculations that the muzzle of my rifle had to point in the direction of the moose, that the birch tree in front of me required that I take one step to the side, and that I had to pull the trigger, all after my quick muscles informed my slower mind that they had already attended to those matters.
It is then that my belatedly keen mind informed my then unsure muscles that they may not have given full credit to the fact that the moose was standing near a lake. The moose of course, lunged for the lake, down the bank, into the water, and died. That is what is called the traditional Alaskan moose hunting "oh shit" story. I was looking at a very heavy, bulky, dead moose barely floating in a deep lake with steep slick grassy sides. My mind was amused. My muscles were in for a long day. And the water was decidedly cold.
Think about that. Gutting a moose that is floating low in water. Not high on your list of preferable tasks.
I walked back to the river, drug the kayak up the bank, through the forest, to the lake. I paddled to the moose, tied a rope around the antlers down in the cold water, and very patiently paddled against the tight rope for over an hour. I wondered what it would be like to tow the Titanic with a kayak. Occasionally I looked at the bank to confirm that I was actually moving in relation to time. A couple times the antlers snagged submerged tree snags, requiring me to pull the moose back a ways and start over in a different direction. And in time I got to a shallower bank of the lake, quite fortunately closer to the river.
Then came the art of gutting and sectioning a moose, while standing in the water the whole day, not letting any of the meat touch the water, to keep it as perfect as one prefers when serving the finest moose steaks from the barbecue. One must know all the tricks, too strenuous to discuss here, which one learns the hard way at the time, and hopes to never use again, or even talk about much, since one will be laughed at for shooting a moose that dies in water and thus results in so much trouble. First pull two legs of the moose up onto the bank as much as possible, or close, if you can. Then just shake your head, and start the work. Keep in mind that bears like to catch moose in the water near a bank, where the moose cannot run. A bear knows all the tricks for gutting a moose in a lake, and would be quick to assist me if one ambled upon my endeavors. I could be seen to be looking carefully among the trees now and again. I won't mention the gnats and mosquitoes and no-see-ums who delighted in my distraction from their endeavors. I had shot the moose at 7:30 AM, and had it in the meat bags at 7:30 PM, with no rest breaks.
After dragging the kayak and carrying the usual, I'll-never-do-that-again heavy loads of meat back through the forest, to the river, loading the kayak and crossing the river, I crawled into the tent, ate some cold food and was asleep. I will explain the 1:AM story in a subsequent paragraph.
For those who do not use a kayak when hunting for moose, a double Klepper kayak can hold every morsel of meat from a average-larger moose with a 55 inch antler spread, the hide, the antlers, four gallons of blueberries, all the camp stuff, and a person, traveling through fast water. There is some knowledge and technique involved. Some of the load is on top of the kayak, rather than in it. The kayak rides low, with the water over the canvas deck, up to the gunwale, but that is good enough. That one was another story. This moose was slightly smaller.
Day three: I learn why I had heard no stories about people taking a canoe or kayak down that part of that river, loaded with moose. Unlike a river boat up on step under power, which draws very little water, a moose-loaded kayak draws about 10 inches of water. I was doing good, despite some desperate moments coming around certain corners.
I came across the cabin with the blue boat. I stopped in and visited. They had not yet found a moose, and contributed their dead-moose-in-the-water stories. I found out that when you are hunting with your son, you can say: Son, swim out and tie this rope to the moose. And the son told me how intensely cold the water was. I asked them what the river was like below there, and they said they never had the courage to try it. Not a good sign.
The slow meandering parts of the river offered interminable boredom. The rapids along too much of the river offered less than 10 inches of water, rushing fast over sharp rocks. That could be said to be exciting, but usually left me wading in the water, dragging the loaded kayak back upstream to then guide and drag it back down narrow places that had a little more water than the place next to it, somewhat, at great exertion. The rapids therefore allowed one to travel much slower and with more strain than the slow parts. It is at such places that one cannot let the kayak ever get off-line with the current, least it be swept sideways and rolled over, at great embarrassment. If that ever happens, the first emergency action one should take is to look around to make sure no one saw you do anything that stupid.
I reached a magnificent camp site, the idyllic camp in the spruce trees beside the remote Alaskan river, with the beaver gracefully swimming by, chickadees twittering in the aspen trees, and a bald eagle gracefully flying low, down the valley. One would be tempted to imagine those slick outdoor magazine full page ads for whiskey or after shave lotion, sit back, pour the whiskey, light the camp fire with the after shave, and muse upon relaxing matters. In real life one doesn't carry even a folding chair in a kayak, the tree to lean back on is covered with sticky pitch, the only thing to drink is boiled river or swamp water, brown from leaf tannin and beaver poop, it is late, cold, drizzling rain, you are exhausted, the same storm still threatens to come over the same ridge, one has a kayak full of moose meat that has yet to survive more rapids if a bear doesn't show up in the middle of the night and shred the kayak before you can get out of the tent to fire a volley of shots into the dark. And then, as it is dang near every time at such camps, precisely at 1:AM, when you were sound asleep in the tranquil stillness, the beaver informs you of the wilderness pecking order by loudly slapping his tail on the water right beside your tent, usually for about a half hour. It is only annoying after the first loud slap fires-up your hormonal balance from the quiescent sleep mode to full adrenaline mode.
Day four: Another consideration of a Klepper kayak loaded with moose is that it is not maneuverable. So when one comes around a corner in the canyon, and sees what one is going to hit in the current, one can get a lot of good exercise flailing the water with the paddle before one hits what he saw. In one case there was no question that I either missed the sweeper or this story would be quite different. I missed it after paddling more frantically than I had ever paddled, and that includes some of my ocean kayaking stories. Another time I snapped the paddle in half, to only then discover that my spare paddle could not be extracted from under a couple tines on the moose antlers lashed to the top of the kayak. There are just too many variables in this game. After hitting one pile of inadequately submerged rocks at the bottom of a chute, my first reaction was to look in the kayak to seek how fast the water was rushing it. That of course required that I move my butt from the only place it kept the kayak stable, then move the rolled-up tent I was sitting on, thus further insulting the kayak's stability, anticipating the water gurgling inside the kayak, until fear of hitting the next rocks led me to abandon thoughts of the previous problem. My home-reinforced triple hull was not punctured that time, much to my relief, and I missed the next rocks, through no skill on my part. With the kayak full of bags of moose meat, I was variously sitting on a pile of stuff at the gunwale level, kneeling on my knees on top of the kayak, or sitting back in the same position, each of which could be described in many terms of discomfort, for each day of travel. And with the moose antlers on top attempting to snag what they could reach out and grab, I could not let the kayak be swept against any brush on the river bank where the current at each bend attempted to brush me. The stress level was proportional to the river flow, and what might be around the next corner.
Having never been down that river, and clueless as to how far I had to yet travel, I was surprised to round a corner to see my jeep parked in the brush beside other vehicles with boat trailers. The other boaters had wisely gone down stream from there, where the water goes into the flats and has no rapids. The trip back up the aforementioned cat track, with the moose in the vehicle, was desperately slow.
The moose then put into the freezer, I attempted to tell my friends what a tough time I had on my four day hunt. Always hunt alone so no one can dispute your stories. I was immediately one-upped by a colleague's solo five day hunt on another Secret River, in a canoe, wherein his dumb decisions created more adventure than my dumb decisions. Why anyone would float down river, in an empty boat, and line back up river, with a loaded boat, I have not yet figured out even when I did it. Then a couple other friends told their story of their nine day hunt on another Stealth Creek, and they verified each other's story. I was left thinking I might try my comparatively easy Secret River again next year.
Much easier to just plant a garden beside the house, with plenty of cabbage and other wholesome vegetables, then shoot the moose that raids your garden. But then other colleagues claim that they have never come back empty handed, and not even bothered with mosquitoes, when they hunt in the super market. Sometimes the check-out clerks get nervous about the rifle, but only the new ones.
There I was mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual. And you can expect the same if you dare to venture out of your own sight, yet alone all the way up to the glacier.
I'd been in the area before, often. I knew the route. I drove from Fairbanks down to another Secret River known only to those who know of it. I unloaded my Klepper, and assembled it. The river was raging this year. Some years it is high, and some years, low. Each has its advantages, and each time you wish it was the other way. I started the long and boring trudge up river, lining my kayak.
There is a lot of very simple technique to lining a boat up river. I will go ahead and tell you the valuable secrets right here in this long boring paragraph, so if you don't know, and if you decide to line a kayak or canoe up a river, you won't look as comical as those military sorts look each time I see them struggling up a river. Why those young chaps do everything so wrong and with such difficulty would puzzle me if what they did was not precisely what I did when I was somehow so befuddled with youth and ego in the military. Simply tie a seventy two foot, seven millimeter diameter blue color nylon rope onto your kayak, one end at the bow, and the other end at the stern. Use a grapevine knot, or a whoopdidoo knot if it is a clean slender knot. Then throw all that crap that you don't need, out of the kayak or canoe, like just about everything you put in there if you are not a mountain climber who has learned how to travel light and efficient. Buy that light mountain climber stuff. Keep the whiskey and cigars in the boat. Then tell your partner, if you are so foolish as to be traveling with one, to do anything he wants as long as he stays away from you and doesn't talk so much he scares everything away. Two dolts, especially experienced dolts, lining one kayak or canoe are the reason to carry a video camera, and qualify them for military service. Let out the full length of the rope so that when you are standing on the bank, upstream from your kayak, the kayak will stay in the current, with the least amount of drag. It should be almost parallel with the current, but just barely angling outward to keep it out there. Mark that spot in the rope. Neatly coil the two sections of rope together, to bring the kayak as close to you as the bank will allow, at the same angle still in the current. Adjust the coils to minimize the drag. Start your foolish adventure. When the bank forces up into the brush, drop some paired coils of rope. When the bank lets you walk right next to the water, coil the doubled rope again. When the current at a bend in the river pushes the bow out into the river and thus increases drag, bring in the bow rope immediately. If the kayak cuts in toward the bank, pull in the stern rope. Maintain the least drag at all times. Conserving energy is the controlling consideration that facilitates all the optimum benefits, including speed. Practice will give you the feel of it. After awhile, take a break and unsnarl the rope you snarled because you were so efficient you moved rapidly along a varied bank, pulling in and letting out various coils of the rope, just by the feel of the drag. Avoid the brush. At the least incentive, pull in the kayak, hop on it, and paddle across to the better bank on the other side, unless of course the other side is a long ways away. Let your partner worry about whether you will ever come back for him, and maybe by next year he will have gotten a real job and bought his own double Klepper. Wear your life vest, and if you are in heavy brush, wear your .44 in your shoulder holster. But tell no one these simple secrets, so there won't be so many people on the Secret River next year.
There was the usual fresh grizzly tracks in the mud along the bank, and my usual wariness while trudging through some unavoidable sections of high brush right to the edge of the bank dropping down to the river. It don't matter how many times a gaggle of ptarmigan suddenly explodes into flight right next to you in the dense brush, with their loud cackling, when it happens, it scares you. But not me of course. We tough guys just grab one by the legs and munch on it while strolling along the river.
Late in the day I was up river far enough to be past the high brush, not far from the bare gravel delta where the river comes out of the glacier. A grizzly crossed the river just upstream a short ways, while I watched him and he watched me. I camped. If you are near a glacier, by late evening the river will be peaking in flow from a hot day melting the ice. You can usually expect the river to not get much higher, like up to where you put your tent. If it is raining on the glacier, all bets are off. An unanticipated flush of water off the glacier any time in the night, from rain, can open a new braid up the river a ways, and severely embarrass your hasty choice of a tent spot at a most inopportune time during one of your more pleasant dreams. Select your tent spot well if you are next to glacier rivers, so you will be around to later lie about your grand adventure.
No monsters or usual bears that night. I trudged onward in the morning. And why am I writing the story of this boring caribou hunt to fill the winter larder? Well, after many years of looking up there while I was hunting lower on the river, I finally decided to line my kayak all the way up to the glacier, to the tantalizing secret small canyon coming in from the side, at the snout of the glacier, from another glacier over a ways in another valley. There was a reason I hadn't previously been so foolish. The upper section of the river was a torrent even in the good years. It was a broad gravel delta, but the river dropped fast and swift, among several large braids. It was intimidating even to a tough guy like me.
But the particular spot I was at for this paragraph looked so innocent, I wasn't wearing my life vest. Fortunately it was open country, so I wasn't wearing my .44 either. I was above the grizzly that crossed the river the previous evening, and there have been no pterodactyls reported in these parts for years. Next thing I knew my foot slipped on the last patch of grass along the river, I went straight down into the water, over my head. I was decidedly impressed with the depth of the water. The current spun me around next to the cut-bank, and I came up with one hand grabbing for what conveniently turned out to be my kayak. Did I mention that less than a mile away the water was coming out of an ice machine so big that it has its own individual name? I noticed that right away.
I and the kayak I desperately clung to were swept down river and out to what was the next item of good fortune, a typical gravel bar out in the river, where I was able to scramble onto it while holding one end of the kayak. It was a fluid motion, if you can imagine such a thing. No portion of me hesitated in dragging the kayak onto the gravel, and stripping off every stitch of clothing, wringing it all out, laying it all over the kayak and the few dry rocks, and standing there bare bottom naked in the brilliant sunshine in the middle of a raging glacier river. No one was watching, quite fortunately, on account of me being the only one up there. I was feeling rather good about it all. I even got out my hair brush and brushed by beard so it would dry out sooner.
I was accorded about a half hour for that leisurely rest out on the certifiably virgin beach never before touched by human toes, and no mosquitoes. Then a cloud covered the sun, plunging the temperature down to the influence of the breeze off the glacier. I nimbly attired myself in my fresh laundered duds still as cold as the river, and set forth again, wearing my life vest.
When I could line no more against the torrent tumbling out of the adjacent glacier, the camp spot was on the other side of the river, of course. The current threw me back twice, but I paddled across to a tent spot so magnificent that I went there again the next year, just for the tent spot. If I learned anything on these trips, I wouldn't have gone on them in the first place.
Oh, and it was that next year that I learned that there were no moose in that valley that year, so I was forced into the marginal territory of the Titanic Moose. That was the year that I again crossed the torrent to the tent spot, wearily stood up at the end of two days of hard work lining my kayak, looked around, and was looking at a bull bou right there looking at me. So much for that story. I was outta there the next morning.
Next morning on this story I was about to trudge off to the most perfect looking caribou hunting spot I have ever seen. It is a certainty, with no equivocation, that the chaps who lived in the neighborhood in previous centuries, sat there and speared or shot caribou with arrows. A deep cut canyon with a nice river bed emerged from higher tundra, separating a tundra and brush plateau from a tundra covered mountain side, with a rock bluff on one side where the canyon opened onto the larger river gravel bar. If I had a picture I wouldn't let you see it because you would look for the place, and it is secret.
But a grizzly appeared across the gravel flats, coming toward me. Well, I figured I better hang around a bit to inform the chap that this tent spot was taken, and that I didn't bring enough cigars for the both of us. He had a ways to walk, so I had awhile to wait. He stood up now and again to sniff in my direction, musing upon this new unpleasant odor in the valley. After awhile he saw me, and kept coming. When he was close enough for me to talk to him, he stopped for a chit-chat for awhile and he seemed to agree with my carefully explained reasoning, and angled off a bit to go around me. It was interesting to watch him cross the river. Without taking his eyes off me, when he reached the rocky cut-bank, he spun around 180 decrees, lowered himself backwards down the bank and into the water, spun back around, swam the river, and came up on my side of the river, now our side, still watching me. Have these guys got this river crossing thing down, or what?
Shit. It suddenly dawned on me that this chap was a predator like me, and he was going the same place I was going, for the same reason, at breakfast time, and I just let him get ahead of me, and he knew it. I scrambled to grab my stuff and start running for the canyon entrance to get there first. He was going right up the river coming out of the canyon, and I was angling toward it. He was ahead of me and intending to keep it that way. If it weren't so well choreographed, I wouldn't have believed it. A magnificent bull caribou came out of the canyon, on cue, too far for me to reasonably shoot, and I was in open sight of it. If it hadn't been for the grizzly, I would have been there already. I could only freeze to avoid being seen by the bou. The bear had slipped behind some brush near the canyon. The caribou looked toward where the bear was. I crouched lower and slowly moved toward the caribou. The caribou walked toward where the bear was. I couldn't get out of sight so I sat down to get a shot if the bou ran in my direction if the bear didn't get it. The bou saw the bear. All I and the bear saw was the blur of the caribou's heels as he disappeared into the canyon.
The bear was a bit miffed also. If it hadn't been for me, he would have been in position before the bou came out of the canyon. So the bear ambled on up to a blueberry patch on one side of the canyon. I went to the other side of the canyon, onto the rock bluff, picked a couple buckets of blueberries, and didn't see another caribou the whole day.
Okay, so next day I was on the same bluff. Three bull caribou were on the gravel flats, but they walked around me and up into the brush on the plateau. A bou in the brush is better than another day watching the flats. I went traipsing off through the brush. I knew right where they were, just on the other side of a rock. So for the first time while hunting, I had the opportunity and remembered to put ear plugs in my ears, for noise protection, on account of our idiot government with its idiot police, outlawing gun silencers, because those idiots think that the world is their enemy, and thus treat everyone as an enemy, and thus earn what they create, while intelligent people in the Finnish government encourage people to use gun silencers to protect their hearing. Well, first thing I noticed was how quiet I was walking through the brush. Unfortunately, the caribou were not wearing ear plugs.
I was surprised to see a bou bull raise up out of the brush, right there on my side of the rock. There would be no choice of which bull I wanted. And it looked like a reasonable cut of steaks and roasts to me, so I dropped it. Well of course the larger bull then stood up right next to it, and leisurely walked away.
It was five loads of meat, hide and antlers down through the head-high brush near the grizzly that was miffed at my intrusion into its caribou larder the previous day. I did not wear my ear plugs, and I kept a round chambered, on account of I use a single shot rifle. It is always amusing to return to the kill for the next load of meat, in the high brush. To humans, possession is nine tenths of the law. To a grizzly, it is ten tenths.
If you want an adrenaline rush, load a kayak, albeit with only a caribou rather than a moose for this story, but with clunky top-heavy caribou antlers sticking up in the air, and push out into the turbulent rapids of a glacier river, at the glacier. I gotta stop doing this sort of stuff. The grocery store looks better every year. The rock wall where the main channel swept against the valley side was a bit of a worry. The standing waves swept the deck and almost took off the antlers.
The thing about these glacier rivers is that the glacial silt is so thick that you cannot see into the water even a nanomicron, if there is one. And they push rocks like bulldozers push rocks. So you can be screaming down a river, literally, while on one side of the kayak the water is as deep as it was by the last patch of grass in the valley, while on the other side of the kayak the water can be two nanomicrons deep rushing over a gravel bar that is indistinguishable from the deep water. No, there is no reading the river in torrents close to the glacier. It is all fast action guessing. And if you get pushed onto the aforementioned gravel bar at that speed, with the aforementioned top heavy antlers, the kayak flips over, throwing you into the aforementioned deep channel on the other side of the shallow bar, then the kayak gets swept away. So the trick is to be ready to instantly jump out at the first nudge of a rock, guess at where you land, grab the kayak to keep it from tipping, shove it back into the deep channel, and hop back in even if you guess wrong and land in the deep part. Quite a trick, huh? Expect to do it too many times. And sometimes you just plain get stuck, and have to drag the heavy kayak over an interminable gravel bar to find deeper water. There was the time I was exhausted from doing just that, and reached deeper water, and took one more step to hop back on the kayak, when the step wasn't there and the kayak caught the current. But that was another time because it was loaded with moose and it was not a sunny day.
The river that takes two miserable boring days to line up, takes four terror-stricken hours to float down, and then you get back to town and tell everyone how much fun you had. There is just no accounting for the illusions created by that goo in human craniums.
Of Kids and Kites in Kathmandu
There I was mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual. It would have to be desperate to be stretching an Alaska story all the way to Nepal. Perfectly normal, as usual. I was in Delhi India, representing Alaska mountain climbers at the General Assembly of the International Union of Alpinist Associations (UIAA), much to the seething rage of the poor chaps sitting on their American Alpine Club throne down in the lower 48. They display the National Park Service type attitude, that all climbers, especially the inferior ones outside the AmerAC little insider clique of super-egotist club leaders, should prostrate themselves before the AmerAC leaders, or at least kneel before them. They had quite a tizzy fit when the Alaskan climbers became a separate member of UIAA.
After the UIAA meeting, I thought I would zip up to nearby Nepal for a few days, on account as I pretty much drained my account to get to India, and figured I should come back with a Nepal story as well, on account of it being a mountain climber sort of place, and so close, and not expensive. That's when I found out that the India and Nepal governments were having their periodic little border tiff to see how much ransom tariff Nepal would pay for access to the world via India. So there was a three day wait at the border for the people sitting in buses. I counted my shekels and decided I could painfully do the airplane thing instead of the bus thing. That's when I was informed that there was a two week wait for an airplane seat. Well now, I was informed of these things by my mountaineering colleagues, among them the delegate of the Nepal mountaineering chaps, who was connected to a certain person who was said to own a certain portion of the Royal Nepal Airlines. The climbers of Nepal and other Asian countries are not unlike the climbers of Alaska, looked down upon from the long noses of the AmerAC and certain European Alpine aristocracy. I was known to be among those standing with the smaller countries in UIAA to question the ego-based edicts of the AmerAC / Euro chaps. I suddenly found myself with a first class ticket on the next flight to Kathmandu, albeit I was bumped to the first row in coach class because another person higher in the pecking order showed up a few minutes before boarding. You can guess what happened to the people in the last row, sort of like what the National Park Service wants to do with Alaska mountain climbers. It's a good thing for me that I didn't represent the last row folks, or I wouldn't have let me get that ticket.
To skim the peak on the approach to the Kathmandu airport, in beautiful weather, the luxuriant Kathmandu valley spreading before one's gaze, is to taste visual candy. I am told that in bad weather as the plane careens past what it barely misses, the taste is something of the opposite flavor. We landed, while back at the border, many people sweltered in a line of buses waiting for a few government sorts to play their childish games.
They are one of the sights that you casually notice while riding in the taxi toward downtown Kathmandu. The airport is on a broad rise above town. The fertile valley below is swathed in rich greens, mostly grasses and grains in low terraced paddies, accented by broad trees and bordered by forested hills rising high into the puffy clouds drifting off the edges of the Himalaya mountains. The little taxi bumps along the road angling down the slope. Cramped inside, head down and peering out the top of the little window, your mind absorbs the first impressions of this fabled place, while the equally curious locals casually walking along the road may wonder about the odd Americans bumping along in the taxies. It is the little kites fluttering high in the sky that linger in your mind while you gaze at all the new sights.
From time to time while later walking around town you notice them again. Sometimes you smile, or just pause to blankly gaze at their odd detachment.
And later, for no real reason at the time while watching them, your mind starts to focus on the sight.
They really are high in the sky, very high indeed, so high that they seem to have launched themselves away from their captors. Kites just don't normally get that high.
They are small, made of flimsy slivers of stick and tissue paper. Different colors. No tail. They do in fact get that high, as one can see from the impressive spools of string in the hands of kids darting through the streets, a typical little kite in one hand. These kids with kite string spools move fast with a purpose, disappearing down alleys as soon as you see them. The wooden spools of string are large, with a dowel protruding at each end, noticeably worn smooth from use. These are not just kids flying kites. They are kite-flying kids.
From a hillside one can look down on the clusters of buildings and houses and sheds, often with kids on the flat roofs or balconies. Sometimes kids are balanced on the top edge of high brick walls and other precarious places, but securely tied to the sky by a long sweeping fibre of white string, becoming almost invisible up at a little tissue kite.
When you can see several of these kite kids up on roof tops, from a high vantage, they display a collective rhythm, each in a ballet around their space, with their arms and hands in constant motion, swinging and spinning and jerking and twirling and flipping the spools of string, always looking up, intent, exacting, with a practiced eye on every movement of the kite. It is as though they see the currents of air flowing around the kite, and guide their kite among them. Yes, they can do this while balanced on the top edge of a high brick wall, dancing along its length with astonishing agility you cannot believe without seeing.
Sometimes the kid will suddenly jerk the spool down between his legs, another time over his head or to one side with a contorted twist leaving the impression, at first unbelievable, that the kid is putting a bit of English on the thing, as any good billiards player would do to curve the roll of the ball. The nimble fingered flipping and spinning of the spool, with dancing to suddenly give the arms the place occupied by the legs, to play out and reel in the string at suddenly precise moments is an intriguing proof that this is no mere casual pursuit. These kids are good, and perhaps unknowingly the leaders of the world in this ancient game in the sky.
You might notice a kid launch a kite and play it in the faint breeze above his head, then let your gaze drift to other sights around the valley, only to look back in a few moments and wonder where the kid came from who is flying a kite somewhere so far, far overhead, and where the kid went who was just launching his kite. They do not mess around. If a breeze comes through the valley, its seems to suck up a flock of kites as though the breeze were a gale sweeping leaves off trees, and holding them, dancing in the sky.
The expanse of blue sky becomes a magnificent stringed harp of parallel white threads gracefully swept by the wind, barely perceptible but gleaming in the sun, flowing down from above, then lost in the houses, buildings and trees of the city. It is the image of glossomer spider webs in arched parallels suspended in the sky from an opaque, wispy cloud of colored kites catching the rays of bright sunshine. There are the kites and the strings and the kids, and each will remain in your mind.
The kites themselves constantly wobble and weave and bob and dip and jerk about in such random order that there is a mystery in how they seem to rise when they could as easily fly to the ground. Yes, the kids jerk the spool in sudden, full arm swinging motions, and spin the spool and such things in an orchestra of motion, but the stretch of the string alone would dampen any control at the kite over such a long distance, one would think.
But there is a tiny speck of control that reaches through the hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet of thin string, its many sections carefully knotted by experts. That speck of control in the hands of the same experts is played with the precision of the most exacting musician. Up at the kite the slightest twinge of the slightest nature makes the lightest nudge at just the right moment to coax a kite's wobble into a graceful dance up through the sky. A wobble in one direction is played into a bob that goes farther. A dip it played into a sweep. An weave is turned into a turn, and a flutter into a dive sweeping back up with dramatic speed. And all of this takes place so high in the sky that if it were in our country there would, without question, be regulations and punishments imposed by decree of dolts in the Federal Aviation Administration and a dozen other bureaucracies incensed that any mere kid without a license would dare to use the government's sky, and with uninspected kites. The kites are surely common conversation among the many hawks and other birds soaring high, but still below the kites.
And there is a subculture of kite kids. From deep within the city, looking from a balcony or an occasional open space, kites randomly dot the sky. You will look out at the kites, even those above you, detached, seeing them from the side. The kite kids look up their string at the kites, attached, and see the bottoms of the kites. The strings come back down to places here and there out of sight all around you somewhere among the city-wide expanse of buildings and trees where there is a kid, maybe with a younger brother or sister beside, who knows the nature of the other kite kids, through the strings. The kite kids cannot see each other, but everyone, including them, can see the kites. You see the movements of the kites. The kids see the movements of each other.
That they were the two highest kites in the sky was what caught my attention, just before I noticed that the bobbing and weaving were bringing the kites toward each other. The sky was an intently watched arena of competition, gladiators. Many eyes gazed upward, spectators and competitors alike. They were competing for kite king of the sky, first to see who could achieve the highest throne, and then to see who could hold it against all, those unknown and distant, somewhere on the ground, but at the center of the arena above the other kites in the sky.
No one could see the expressions on the faces of the kids lost among the maze of city buildings and houses, not even each other. No one knew or would know the names of each pair of combatants, usually not even each other, out of sight across some buildings and trees. It was a very private field of competition in a very public arena. Everyone who looks up is admitted to the show. No one knew how many spectators were watching at any moment of the battle, looking up to see the sudden glory or defeat. No one knew which kites were competing until the moment that the two highest became apparent and made the first bobbing motions toward each other. There were kites secretly stalking kites, but none risking the cost of battle until the highest position was worth the battle. Only the practiced eye could first discern which kites were still rising to heights, and which were then slipping toward battle. All who achieve height were wary and ready.
The two kites seemed to pass each other. The strings were invisible at that height. And just how high were these kites? And did the kites really pass by each other? What angle was I to where those two strings rose from what places? There was a lot at which I was too unpracticed to yet know about this game.
It was the height of the two kites that visually set them apart, and it was the suddenness of their ceasing to fly that startled me. They had looked so natural above all the other kites arched against the wind, and so odd suddenly flipping backward, beginning the long, leaf-like flutter to the ground. It was a mix of minor but captivating emotions watching this scene, fallen gladiators fluttering downward for a seemingly endless time through the field of yet rising kites striving for the now vacant positions at the top.
Somewhere up there the strings of the two champions of height had crossed, purposefully, and cut each other at the same moment, this time a mutual defeat of two kite gladiators, kids now somewhere in the city, spinning spools in a frantic blur to recover as much precious string as possible before it fell onto a building or tree that grabbed the errant string and chewed it apart for idle amusement, beyond the reach of the kid, while the kite fell far away in the wind.
I looked up again with more interest, and over a ways, there were the next two champions, one sweeping in a long arc around behind the other. The strings crossed. The kites became erratic as they tussled with the sky. One jerked forward twice, and the other flipped backward, dipped into a spiral, then fluttered down. The victor looked around at the other rising kites.
As many as there are of these kites, and as many as there are of their kids, no doubt there are no few kites found more than once fallen onto some roof or into some alley after more than one battle high overhead. They would soar again with new pilots. It is the chance of finding a kite, like a coin in the street, that keeps kids alert while darting about the city on their daily endeavors. And the lost sting, broken at roof tops, draped through trees and city obstacles is as often gathered up by the more clever antics of another kite kid, following its length in hope of finding a kite at the end.
It is as much the same everywhere in the world, the challenge of the wind and one another, each by the means which happen to come about, at every age. We need only recognize it, and then enjoy what it offers.
The kids and kites in Kathmandu will give you smiles and suspense every sunny day you stay.
Stories 3, the next page.